Pearl's Problem Planet
No. 6: June 20, 2019 ~ Like any parent, I love all the characters I created for The Darkest Eyes, my debut novel, even those who make only brief appearances in the book. Although Pearl doesn't show up often, she plays a pivotal role in the story. Perhaps the most mysterious of all the characters, Pearl lives a rich life outside the pages of the novel, and I'd like to share a bit of it with you.
"It's not the size of the planet, my dear -- it's the size of the problem."
Pearl's skin tingled. Thankfully the flush of her rage wouldn't glow through, given her dark coloring. After outdistancing every other adept in her set by a parsec, she drew the crappiest assignment on the board anyway!
Her eyes swam as she plucked the description from the display. With a slight shift of intention she learned as much about the planet's science, history and culture as its best scholars might absorb in a lifetime.
Grudgingly she had to admit it was not quite so ordinary after all. She wondered which of its times and spaces she'd been condemned to fix. There was no shortage of possibilities.
"Forward or back?" she asked.
"Both," said Jode.
Both! No adept had traveled forward and backward in time on the same assignment -- not ever -- much less their first!
Going back wasn't so bad. She took pride in her mastery of the wracking physical sensation -- no self-respecting adept would describe it as "pain" -- and after landing she actually had fun occupying her younger body for a time. The Pearl of the past always seemed faithful to her memory -- solid and real. She enjoyed reconnecting with her sassy child self, knowing what she knew now.
Going forward was altogether different. Neither "sensation" nor "pain" adequately described the physical and psychological maelstrom a forward-traveling adept inevitably endured. The landing was always harsh and the connection shocking. There seemed to be a limitless number of possible selves in her unfixed future, and Pearl found most of them either frightening or repulsive.
Both types of travel required a precision fine-tuning of the adept's psyche, and a delicate dance to maintain the essential balance of forces that would allow a safe return. The tunings were as dissimilar as a rellybird's chirp and a faniform's orchestral blast. Pearl couldn't imagine switching from one to another and back again without recharging, which would be impossible while on assignment.
As her arguments and questions arose, Jode responded to them. The debate took place silently, too quickly for either teacher or student to consciously mark, and ended abruptly with its predetermined conclusion. In a blink Pearl's life became inextricably entwined with a strange little tridimensional planet in a far-away galaxy of no particular importance to the cosmos.
She flipped her bronze ponytail in a gesture of defiance that usually evoked a chuckle from Jode, but he only tilted his head slightly, as though -- Eah forbid it! -- he agreed with her.
Only then did Pearl pick up on Jode's distress. Either her old fadeh deliberately unmasked his feelings for a change, or her leap from anger to fear triggered his involuntary frankness.
Pearl's anxiety meter soared. If Jode had not handpicked her assignment then the order came from above. The situation must be grave indeed if the Echelon was willing to sacrifice Viturlifa's star adept.
Completely detached from ego, Pearl's self-assessment placed her not only as the top performer in her set, but also one of the strongest of all the adepts, fadehs included, and at nineteen her gifts had not fully bloomed. To send her on a mission that involved back-and-forth time travel was reckless, no doubt about it -- and if anything could be said about the Echelon, it was that they were cautious almost to a fault.
Earth-Atlantis-Hesoa posed a great many serious problems, but so did millions of other more distinguished planetary systems. There were so many worlds in distress in the vastness of space-time that prioritizing their needs was impossible. Typically the fadehs relied on their own intuition to match their proteges with tasks suited to their capabilities, and they started small.
The Echelon's involvement meant only one thing: This problem was bigger than the planet that owned it. The stakes must be very high to put Pearl's rare mind and her life itself on the line.
"Why?" she asked, hating the plaintive note she heard in her own voice.
"I should like to know myself when you discover the answer," Jode said. He smiled but his eyes burned fiercely.
Pearl trudged home under a pale pink sky composing a dreadful speech in her head. Tonight she and Nita planned to join their banners, to declare to all of Viturlifa their commitment to partner for life.
How fortunate that Nita had resisted her entreaties to hold a big celebration with all their friends gathered round. Instead she wanted a quiet evening together, a stroll along the Selving shore with only their dune-dogs for company.
It would be less complicated for Pearl to say what must be said against the backdrop of rushing waves and starlit sky. Her own fate might be sealed, but she would not allow Nita to agonize over her plight.
Tears welled in Pearl's gold-flecked eyes as she imagined the hurt her words would inflict. Despite her aching heart, her course was clear.
I'll be writing more about Pearl and other less well-known characters from The Darkest Eyes in the months to come, and I'd love to hear your reactions, questions and ideas. Please comment here or send an email to email@example.com.